WHY THEY NEVER BOMBED THE RAILWAY TRACKS
Often attributed to Hannah Arendt, the term “Desk Murderer” was frequently used by the Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal. It usually refers to state-employed Nazis who facilitated the Holocaust but later claimed innocence, arguing they had never set foot in the death camps and were therefore innocent of murder.
The foremost desk murderer among the Allies was John J. McCloy, a Wall Street lawyer entrusted by the USA with the responsibility of helping Jewish refugees in Europe during World War II.
The Jews who made their requests to the War Refugee Board in Washington, D.C. (to assist Jews in Europe) had no idea that its key administrator:
- met with Rudolf Hess in 1936 and attended the Berlin Olympics with Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring, seated in Hitler’s private box,
- had lived in Italy, at the behest of his Wall Street law firm (Cravath, de Gersdoff, Swaine & Wood), and opened a Milan office to serve as an advisor to the fascist government of Benito Mussolini. [Source: Anton Chaitkin’s George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography],
- worked with the law firm that represented I.G. Farben, one of the five largest companies in the world, essential to the Nazi war effort,
- had sufficient connections with I.G. Farben to know it was relying on slave labourers from Auschwitz to produce vital fuel and rubber alternatives during WW II,
- facilitated via the Nazi-supportive conglomerate’s close and illegal business relations with Standard Oil.
It was this man who chiefly decided, on behalf of the United States and its Allies, not to interfere with the smooth running of Auschwitz in 1944 and 1945 by continuously deflecting and defusing any and all requests to bomb either Auschwitz II (Birkenau) or its railway lines. The rationale repeatedly used by the United States not to engage in any humanitarian efforts to save Jews was that defeating the Nazis was the best and only course of military action worthy of American lives.
This following summary of John J. McCloy’s machinations as the Assistant Secretary of War in World War II provides an essential backdrop for understanding what Rudolf Vrba and the Jews of Europe were up against when they tried to spread the truth about the Holocaust.
As for a detailed, alternate explanation as to why the Allied refused and failed to bomb the railway lines, this site recommends Rafael Medoff’s summary. It is 19 pages long but well worth the detour.
A formal request to bomb Auschwitz was first made to the RAF as early as January of 1941. This request was written by non-Jewish Auschwitz prisoners in December of 1940 and delivered to head of the RAF Bomber Command, Air Marshall Richard Pierse, by the Polish prime minister-in-exile, Wladyslaw Sikorski, who was also Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Army.
“The prisoners implore the Polish Government to have the camp bombed. The destruction of the electrified barbed wire, the ensuing panic and darkness prevailing, the chances of escape would be great. The local population will hide them and help them to leave the neighbourhood. The prisoners are confidently awaiting the day when Polish planes from Great Britain will enable their escape. This is the prisoners unanimous demand to the Polish Government in London.”
Pierse became the first of many military officials who, for the next four years, refused to put at risk precious military personnel to interrupt the smooth operations of the Auschwitz complex. He did so by deciding that the people in this strange place called Auschwitz couldn’t possibly know what they were talking about.
The practical notion of bombing the connecting railway tracks was less easily dismissed. It took more cunning and lies–most consistently from John J. McCloy–to ensure that not one bomber was ever used strategically to destroy any Polish railway lines in order to retard Nazi efficiency for the murder of millions of Jews.
Until the U.S 15th Air Force established full operations at its base in Foggia in Southern Italy in the spring of 1944, military strategists were able to persuasively deflect any and all requests for aerial interference by simply declaring that Auschwitz was out of the range of Allied bombers. This was false.
When considering the necessity or legitimacy of using Allied planes to bomb the railway tracks leading to Auschwitz, there are two polarities of opinion:
1) Gerhard Weinberg, a respected historian of Nazi Germany, observed, “The idea that men who were dedicated to the killing program… were likely to be halted in their tracks by a few line cuts on the railway or the blowing up of a gas chamber is preposterous.”
2) Benjamin Netanyahu, as Israel’s youngest-ever Prime Minister, visited the death camp in 1998 and pronounced, “All that was needed was to bomb the train tracks. The Allies bombed the targets nearby. The pilots only had to nudge their cross-hairs.”
Both positions are easily defensible.
The Hungarian academic Dorottya Halász in her 2012 essay “Propaganda Versus Genocide: The United States War Refugee Board and the Hungarian Holocaust” [AHEA: E-journal of the American Hungarian Educators Association, Volume 5] has concluded, “Sadly, the Allied policy that could see the genocide end only as a result of military victory ultimately triumphed over other options of humanitarian aid.”
We leave it to the reader to make up their own minds on this issue.
“November 24, 1944, marked a turning point in Holocaust history. From then on, the news of Hitler’s plan to annihilate the Jews was available to everyone in the democratic world who cared to know.” — David S. Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews
The non-Jewish historian who published that rather lenient assessment in 1984 did not have Google at his fingertips, nor did he have access to ABEbooks that enables any avid researcher to obtain just about any book ever published. Forty years after Wyman came to his conclusion, we can now devise a more detailed chronology.
— On June 2, 1944, Yitzchak Gruenbaum [pronounced Greenbaum], a 65-year-old Polish Zionist and chairman of the Jewish Agency’s Rescue Committee in Jerusalem who had settled in Palestine in 1933, arranged for the American consul in Jerusalem to send a message to the new War Refugee Board, requesting the Alllies to bomb the deportation rail line leading to Auschwitz.
— In mid-June of 1944, Jacob Rosenheim, a representative of the Orthodox Jews within the Agudath Israel World Organization, had access to the contents of the Vrba-Wetzler Report and made his formal request to the U.S. government to bomb the railway tracks and the bridges leading to Auschwitz, particularly the junctions.
— On August 9, 1944, A. Leon Kubowitzki, from the World Jewish Council in New York, relayed a message sent from a member of the Czech government-in-exile, Ernest Frischer, directly to the U.S. War Department, pleading for the bombing of the gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz, as well as the bombing of railways leading to Auschwitz.
As we know, nothing happened.
[According to David S. Wyman, in September, after the WRB had kiboshed these proposals, the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the U.S. met in September and confirmed that bombing attacks in Poland to save Jews were not “within their recognizance.”]
Gruenbaum, the first appellant, was a controversial figure, detested by Rudolf Vrba because Gruenbaum had adamantly and consistently maintained that Zionist funds meant for the establishment of a homeland for Jews should not be detoured to rescue Jews from Nazi oppression in Europe. Gruenbaum later wrote in his book, In Days of Holocaust and Destruction, “when they asked me, couldn’t you give money out of the United Jewish Appeal funds for the rescue of Jews in Europe, I said, ‘NO!’ and I say again, ‘NO!’… one should resist this wave which pushes the Zionist activities to secondary importance.” But not all Zionists shared that belief. As leader of the ultra-orthodox Agudat Yisrael, Rabbi Yitzhak Itshe, Meir Levin pleaded “Take the Jewish National Fund money…won’t you halt the work in Palestine during such a period, when they are murdering, slaughtering Jews by the hundreds of thousands, even millions? Don’t establish new settlements, take the money for those needs.”
Also among the first European Jewish leaders to ask the Allies, in general, to bomb the railway lines to Auschwitz was the Slovak Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandl. He was distrusted by Vrba even though the rabbi’s heroic cousin in Slovakia, Gisi Fleischmann, a Zionist, had forged an underground rescue organization for Jews, Pracovna Skupina, or the Working Group, with which Weissmandl became affiliated as its “spiritual guide.” Widely admired by most Jews, Weissmandl later served as a leader for the Budapest Orthodox Jewish community–but somehow he survived while Jews around him perished. After Slovakia had been selected as the first area in Europe to be ravaged by the Final Solution, Rabbi Weissmandl had bribed the Nazi official Dieter Wisliceny with $50,000 to halt the deportation of Slovakian Jews from the fall of 1942 to October of 1944. [The Nazis resumed the deportations later.]
Like Weissmandl, Dr. Oskar Neumann had been involved in the Slovak Judenrat (or Ustredna Zidov / U.Z.) during the deportation of 58,000 Slovak Jews (out of a total of 88,000) in 1942, mainly to Auschwitz and Majdanek. By December of 1943, Neumann was appointed as acting director/leader (starosta) of the U.Z. and the so-called Working Group including Weissmandl had provided leadership to Slovak Jewry and subsequently hosted the arrival of Vrba and Wetzler in Zilina. As soon as Weissmandl and his colleagues were privy to the 30-page Vrba-Wetzler Report, including maps of the crematoria, they distributed copies and included letters to U.S. and British diplomats, officials of the Vatican, and Jewish rescue activists in neutral Switzerland urging the Allies to undertake strategic bombing missions of the railway tracks and Auschwitz itself.
“We ask that the crematoria of Auschwitz be bombed from the air,” Weissmandl pleaded. “They are sharply visible, as shown on the enclosed map. Such bombing will delay the work of the German murderers. What is more important is to bomb persistently all the roads leading from Eastern Hungary to Poland and to bomb persistently the bridges.” He would sometimes add to his communiques, as a rhetorical flourish, “And you, our brothers in all the free lands, what are you doing about the extermination which swallows 10,000 every day? For God’s sake do something now and quickly!”
Rosenheim’s aforementioned missive to Washingtom was likely as an offshoot of Weissmandl’s activism. To at least slow down the process of unrelenting mass murders, Rosenheim sent urgent letters to Washington D.C. pleading with the administration of FDR to bomb specific junctions of the railway tracks leading to Auschwitz, at Kolice and Preslov “at once, because day after day less people could be saved.”
These appeals were forwarded to John Pehle, director of the neophyte War Refugee Board. His immediate instinct was to distribute the burden of knowledge to colleagues in Washington D.C. including the aging Secretary of War Henry Stimson, a conservative Republican who was chosen by Roosevelt largely because Roosevelt, a Democrat, knew he would need bipartisan support if it was deemed necessary for the U.S. to enter World War II.
Pehle and Stimson, who was a reluctant member of the WRB, decided the task of responding to Rosenheim should be allocated to Stimson’s lieutenant, the Assistant Secretary of War, John Jay McCloy.
John McCloy was a Wall Street lawyer who had become a de facto WRB board member after he had attended the aid organization’s second meeting. Although McCloy had seen limited action in World War I, he was now one of only two civilians within the War Department who had any discretionary power for major decisions.
McCloy consulted with his associate Al Gerhardt before proceeding with the task of producing an official WRB response as to the efficacy of granting Rosenheim’s request. His precedent-setting response to the necessity of saving Jews bound for Auschwitz would take the form of a concise letter addressed to Perle, not to Rosenheim directly. [A copy of this letter appears below.]
McCloy’s inter-office decision/memo—addressed only to his WRB superior—could be shared directly with Rosenheim at Perle’s discretion. Either way, McCloy’s letter was crafted in such a way as to make it officially clear that the American government had taken seriously this unusual request from Rosenheim to save the lives of Jews. Even if the figures for the death toll were even half-true, somebody had to be seen to care.
The easiest path forward in terms of inter-office politics would be for McCloy to craft a response that amplified the prejudices of his boss, Stimson, who, after all, had a war to run. But McCloy understood he must not be viewed as someone who had taken this matter lightly, or acted too swiftly.
One can easily imagine McCloy as the donkey stuck between two proverbial bales of hay. This bizarre death camp, somewhere in a place now called Poland, surely merited some sort of humanitarian response. Then again, how much of the American population would countenance the lives of American airmen being put at risk to save foreign Jews?
McCloy was aware that much of American public was antisemitic and that his superior Stimson would happily reject Rosenheim’s appeal in a heartbeat. Therefore, McCloy’s WRB boss Pehle was in an unprecedented quandary: How could the War Refugee Board not take seriously the fact that a highly credible report from two Slovakian Jews had estimated that the number of Jews killed at Auschwitz between June of 1942 and April of 1944 was 1.74 million? As if fighting the Nazis was not hard enough, this referenced-but-as-yet-unseen report from the two escapees now made it no longer possible for politicians to deny the mass, industrialized murder of millions of Jews. And it was becoming obvious that the Nazis were operating more than one killing centre…
McCloy, as the servant of two masters–Secretary of War Henry Stimson and WRB boss John Pehle–took his time deciding how to respond to Rosenheim’s request on behalf of American Jewry, acting on behalf of European Jewry, because obviously the War Department and the War Refugee Board had different mandates.
The thorny issue as to whether or not American military and personnel should be used to save the lives of refugees had already arisen in late January when the WRB had instructed McCloy to send a message to war-theatre commanders advising them to do what was possible to assist the government’s policy of rescue. Even though participation in such efforts was therefore mandated, when John J. McCloy forwarded the proposal (of cooperating with rescue operations) to the Office of the Chief of Staff, McCloy took it upon himself to jot his own message onto the proposal. He wrote: “I am very chary of getting the Army involved in this while the war is on.”
Having received such cautionary disapproval from McCloy, who doubled as Stimson’s right hand man, the War Department drafted this internal dictum in February: “We must constantly bear in mind, however, that the most effective relief which can be given victims of enemy persecution is to insure the speedy defeat of the Axis.”
And so the death tolls for Jews soared.
But the aforementioned Jacob Rosenheim was not the first American made privy to the scale and methodologies of industrialized genocide at Auschwitz.
As the best known rabbi in America, Rabbi Stephen Samuel Wise of the American Jewish Congress in New York first received a communique about the nature, extent and methodology of the Holocaust from Gerhardt Riegner of the World Jewish Congress in Vienna in 1942. The source of these revelations about Nazi plans to expedite the mass murder of European Jews using prussic acid was a German businessman, Eduard Schulte, who surreptitiously travelled to Switzerland on July 29, 1942 specifically to alert the rest of the world about the heinous agenda of the Nazis.
The heroism of Schulte is seldom cited. Until 1943, he was chief executive for a huge, German zinc mining company in Breslau (now Wroclaw in Poland), but prior to the war he had connections with Allen W. Dulles, then a lawyer with Sullivan & Cromwell. When Dulles became the chief of the Office of Strategic Services in Bern, Switzerland–essentially a U.S. spy–Schulte believed he might be able to use Dulles as a conduit to expose Nazi atrocities to the outside world.
Born in Dusseldorf on Jan. 4, 1891, Eduard Reinhold Karl Schulte earned a law degree, worked in banking and became managing director of Georg von Giesche’s Erben, the biggest zinc producer in Germany, in 1926. Subsequently, American-controlled Anaconda Copper Mining Company controlled 51 per cent of the German company’s interests in Polish Silesia. Under the Weimar Republic, Schulte was a member of the Social Democratic Party. He had friends who were removed from their jobs and killed after Hitler ascended to power in 1933. In the immediate aftermath of Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939, Schulte and his legal advisor for Erben, Albrecht Jung, successfully repelled an attempt by Herman Goring, Hitler’s second-in-command, to wrest control of their mining operations in Poland for the Third Reich. To protect his operations, Schulte was forced to buy out Anaconda’s shares using Swiss banks. Hence, Schulte had viable reasons to commute to Switzerland.
It was this little-heralded German industrialist who first relayed advance knowledge to the Allies that Hitler was planning to invade the Soviet Union and that he was preparing a program of mass murder of European Jews using prussic acid. It has taken many decades for historians to consider that Schulte mostly likely gleaned some of these revelations from Wilhelm Canaris, chief of the Nazi military intelligence branch called Abwehr. Schulte was likely a confederate of anti-Nazi plotters Hans Bernd Gisevius, a German vice consul in Zurich, and Carl Goerdeler, the one-time Mayor of Leipzig (both of whom were executed in the aftermath of a 1944 assassination attempt against Hitler). Schulte fled to permanent residency in Switzerland after he was warned his life was in danger by Admiral Wilhelm Canaris.
It was the intelligence provide by the “good German” Eduard Schulte, after he arrived in Switzerland on July 29, 1942, that provided the content for the so-called Riegner Telegram that was sent by the Secretary of the World Jewish Congress in Geneva, Gerhart Riegner, to the organization’s London and New York offices, on August 8, 1942, from the U.S. consulate in Geneva. Hence, in the aftermath of Jan Karski’s revelations that were relayed directly to President Roosevelt in a face-to-face meeting, Sydney Silverman, a British MP who doubled as Chair of the British Section of the World Jewish Congress, and Rabbi Wise of the American Jewish Congress, were able to blow the whistle on the Holocaust almost from its outset–but to no avail. The U.S. State department refused to believe it could be true.
When Rabbi Wise brought the Schulte revelations to Under-Secretary of State Sumner Wells, he was told to wait until Wells could investigate further. “I’m almost demented with my people’s grief,” said Wise. In frustration, he told the New York Herald Tribune that two million Jews were already dead, under-estimating the death toll by half. By December 2, 1942, international Jewry declared a Day of Mourning worldwide. This outcry led to a private meeting between Rabbi Wise and FDR on December 8th during which Wise told FDR that the Jews of Europe were doomed without some intervention. “We are dealing with an insane man,” FDR said, referring to Hitler. But he did nothing.
As a response to the fecklessness of the Bermuda Conference that was intentionally convened by the United States and Great Britain in a remote location in April of 1943 — in order to discuss the fate of the Jews in Europe — the Bergsonite Committee for a Jewish Army sponsored a large advertisement in the New York Times blasting the supposedly humanitarian gathering as a “mockery and a cruel jest.” As a result, the fate of the Jews in Europe briefly merited some discussion in the U.S. Congress and Senate. “Two million Jews in Europe have been killed off already,” warned Senator William Langer of North Dakota, “and another five million Jews are awaiting the same fate unless they are saved immediately. Every day, every hour, every minute that passes, thousands of them are being exterminated.”
In 1944, Rabbi Wise would be one of the first Jews outside of Slovakia to be made privy to the contents of the Vrba-Wetzler Report that detailed the scale and methodologies of genocide at Auschwitz.
By May 10, The New York Times had reported that the Hungarian government “is preparing for the annihilation of the Hungarian Jews.” The Times then reported one week later that the first batch of Hungarian Jews had been sent to “murder camps in Poland.” The Times then reported on the “cold-blooded murder” of Hungary’s Jews on June 4. Factual information about the contents of Vrba-Wetzler Report was published by the BBC on June 15, 1944, to be followed by the New York Times on June 20.
At a meeting of the Executive of the Jewish Agency on June 11, 1944, chaired by David Ben-Gurion, Isaac Gruenbaum, head of the Rescue Committee of the Jewish Agency, had proposed that the Allies should be urged to bomb the death camps in Poland such as Auschwitz and Treblinka. The London-based Jewish Chronicle ran an article by Gruenbaum on June 16 headlined “Bomb death camps.” Clearly, Gruenbaum was responding to the contents of the Vrba-Wetzler Report. The Executive members of the Jewish Agency nonetheless were overwhelmingly opposed (11-1) to Gruenbaum’s proposal. Ben-Gurion concluded, “the view of the board is that we should not ask the Allies to bomb places where there are Jews.”
Chaim Weizmann, the architect of modern Israel who had first visited Anthony Eden on June 7 to plead for the British to help the Jews in Hungary, would make repeated appeals to Eden and the British government to bomb the railway tracks and the crematoria at Auschwitz all summer, only to be officially rebuffed on September 1. The Foreign office would reply: “I am sorry to have to tell you, that in view of the very great technical difficulties involved, not to mention the diversion which would be necessary of material of vital importance at this critical stage of the war, we have no option but to refrain from pursuing the proposal in present circumstances.”
On June 16, with an allusion to the Vrba-Wetzler report, the BBC World Service reported on the murder of the first “Czech family camp” in Auschwitz and repeated the correct prediction made by Vrba and Wetzler that the mass murder of the second Czech family camp was soon to follow. Four days later, the New York Times printed a 22-line story on page five headlined “Czechs Report Massacre” to report that 7,000 Jews were “dragged to the gas chambers in the notorious German concentration camps at Birkenau and Oświęcim.” Around the same period in June, the Czech representative for the League of Nations, Dr. Jaromir Kopecky, passed along a full copy of the Vrba-Wetzler Report to the Czech government-in-exile in London, enabling the Allied forces to be fully informed (according to Kulka’s interview with Kopecky in Tel Aviv in 1967).
Vrba’s estimate that 1,715,000 Jews had been murdered at Auschwitz was repeated by the Swiss correspondent of the British news agency Exchange Telegraph, Walter Garrett, in four dispatches he sent to London on June 24 after he had received the Vrba-Wetzler Report from George Mantello. There soon appeared an outpouring of at least 380 articles pertaining to Auschwitz, mainly within the Swiss press, during the next three weeks. One report from Geneva called Les camps d’extermination ran to 66 pages.
The as-yet-unnamed report had also reached Allen Dulles in Switzerland in mid-June, whereupon Dulles had shared its contents with the WRB’s representative in Geneva, Roswell McClelland, who had visited Jews in internment camps in southern France in 1942. Having observed some “re-location” transports for French Jews, he was emotionally shaken by its contents and sent an urgent three-page cable to WRB chairman Pehle, stating:
“There is little doubt that many of these Hungarian Jews are being sent to the extermination camps of Ausehitz [Oswiecim / Auschwitz] and Birke Nau [Birkenau] in west upper Silesia where according to recent reports, since early summer 1942 at least 1,500,000 Jews have been killed. There is evidence that already in January 1944 preparations were being made to receive and exterminate Jews in these camps [from Vrba]. Soon a detailed report on these camps will be cabled.”
Anything connected with the surname Dulles was not to be taken lightly, hence Pehle, as head of the newly formed WRB, had felt compelled to take Rosenheim’s pleas seriously—whether he was sympathetic to Jews or not. McClelland had added a note to Pehle saying that sources within Slovakia and Hungary had also urgently requested “that vital sections of these [railway] lines, especially bridges … be bombed as the only possible means of slowing down or stopping future deportations.”
Hence the first request to bomb the railway tracks and bridges leading to Auschwitz had been made unofficially to the WRB in mid-June, even before Rosenheim’s letter. On the same day that the aforementioned cable was received from McClelland at the WRB’s offices, Pehle discussed Rosenheim’s bombing proposal with McCloy, however McCloy did not see the contents of the actual Swiss cable for himself until June 29. Regardless, we know that Pehle attached a note to the cabled message specifically directing McCloy—for a second time—to examine the section about bombing vital sections of railway lines.
Here is McCloy’s brief letter, dated July 4, that became the basis for the Allies continuous refusal to make any military efforts to save the lives of millions of Jews doomed to die at Auschwitz. This succinct masterpiece of obfuscation (long hidden from public view) was crafted by John McCloy after he was apprised of the vast horrors at Auschwitz.
Almost a lifetime later, if we examine the files of the Operations and Planning Division of the War Department, it is possible to trace the origins of McCloy’s stance on Auschwitz more deeply.
It can now be revealed that on June 23, the Operations and Planning Division had received its own query about the viability of bombing the railway lines. Without bothering to order a logistical study of the matter, Lieutenant General John E. Hull, acting on behalf of General Thomas T. Handy who was in England, formally disapproved of any military plan to destroy the vital railway connections and bridges leading to Auschwitz.
Hull made his decision to not try and save the lives of more than one million Jews with relative ease. Hull did so simply by consulting a February 1944 internal referendum of the War Department that stated as a matter of policy, “the most effective relief which can be given to victims of enemy persecution is to insure the speedy defeat of the Axis.”
This was the all-purpose excuse that McCloy needed to reject the Jewish pleas to stop the genocide.
After consulting with his own personal aide, Colonel “Al” Gerhardt, McCloy instructed him to “kill” this issue on the grounds they should not attempt to overrule General Hull. It must be noted that Harrison Alan Gerhardt was of Germanic origin and he would proceed to become McCloy’s right hand man or “chief executive officer” at the War Department from 1943 to 1945. He would then serve as special assistant to McCloy at the Allied High Commission in Germany from 1949 to 1952. He became Major General Harrison Alan Gerhardt and twice received the Distinguished Service Medal for his work with McCloy, having served with the Allied Control Council in Berlin and on the Army General Staff.
They were, after all, only following orders.
In his study, Accomplices: Churchill, Roosevelt and the Holocaust (New York: Peter Lang 2011), University of California political science professor Alex Groth concludes the wartime administrations of both leaders “were fundamentally hostile to Jewish rescue.” He accuses both leaders of perpetuating “studious indifference” to Hitler’s Final Solution even after the Polish whistleblower Jan Karski had met privately with FDR at the White House on July 28, 1943 to outline the ongoing genocidal practices of the Nazis. Groth claims Roosevelt Roosevelt held 423 press conferences between the outbreak of the war and his death and never once mentioned the plight of European Jewry.
Leaders and representatives of Jews who pleaded for the Allies to bomb the railways tracks leading to Auschwitz, or even the concentration camps directly, were repeatedly told by the War Refugee Board that those destinations were not within range of Allied air power. Research undertaken by Groth, who received his Ph.D from Columbia University in 1960, discovered there were 424 Allied flights to Poland from Britain and southern Italy between spring 1941 and summer 1944. These flights continuously provided supplies for the Polish resistance via at least 80 makeshift Polish air fields. Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto who attempted to revolt, led by the likes of Mordechai Anielewicz, were not supported in any way.
“The Allies did not give one damn as far as the Jews were concerned,” says Groth. His book argues that the Allies should have sought to attack the “extermination apparatus” of the Holocaust because Nazi Germany derived enormous financial benefits from confiscating all the properties and personal effects of Jews. Hence, rescuing Jews instead of completely ignoring their plights should have been viewed as a military strategy to shorten the war. from The Jerusalem Post, November 20, 2022.
You may read the full article here.
Emboldened, John J. McCloy proceeded to lie to Jewish and non-Jewish plaintiffs alike by stating that proposed missions to bomb the railway tracks were not logistically feasible.
Meanwhile, large-scale U.S. bombing flights emanating from southern Italy were already flying over this strange place that was first identified as Auschwitz by those two Slovakian Jews.
The U.S. had taken aerial-reconnaissance photos of Auschwitz and the nearby I.G. Farben petrochemical plant as early as April 4, 1944. More photos were taken on June 26, about a week before McCloy declared flight missions to the area were not manageable.
The extent to which McCloy lied when he repeatedly advised petitioners that the rail lines leading to Auschwitz could not reasonably be deemed within range becomes jaw-dropping if one considers the following:
Contrary to McCloy’s statement that approaching Auschwitz railway lines by air would be an impractical diversion, 71 B-17 bombers had already flown over three railway lines leading to Auschwitz on June 26, 1944—three days before the Vrba-Wetzler Report reached McCloy’s desk.
Just three days after McCloy’s first rejection of the plan, a force of 452 Fifteenth Air Force bombers, en route to bomb the Blechhammer synthetic oil refineries near Kattowitz and Breslau, flew across and along five railway lines leading to Auschwitz.
Soon after McCloy had formally stated that bombing the railway tracks to save Jewish lives would not be feasible, there were four more bombing missions that directly targeted the German industrial complex at Auschwitz III (later known as Monowitz).
The Allies sent 127 B-17 “Flying Fortresses” on a major mission from the air force base at Foggia, Italy, to attack the chemical plants at Auschwitz III on August 20, 1944 for a half-hour deluge of 1,336 500 lb. bombs from an altitude of between 26,000 and 29,000. Any one of those 1,336 bombs could have seriously disrupted the railway transport of Jewish murder victims to the main Auschwitz killing grounds. Instead, part of the Monowitz camp that housed slave labourers (including POWs) was bombed by accident. Inmates including the Italian writer Primo Levi were delighted.
“We heard the aeroplanes coming,” recalled Jewish prisoner Libuša Breder, “and we wanted them to put the bombs on the camp. At least we could run. Hundreds and hundreds of planes were coming and we are looking up and no bombs. So this we could not understand. So, absolutely, God forgot about us and the people of the war forgot us…. [they] didn’t care about what’s going on and they knew what was going on there.”
According to David S. Wyman in The Abandonment of the Jews, “During 1944, 2,800 American heavy bombers had struck oil targets within forty-seven miles of Auschwitz, and 223 of them had bombed industrial areas at Auschwitz itself, less than five miles from the gas chambers.”
Another bombing mission over the chemical plants was undertaken by 96 B-24 “Liberators on September 13, as well as two aerial attacks orchestrated by the Allies on December 18 and December 26. Forty-nine planes dropped 436 500-lb bombs the first time; ninety-five planes dropped 679 500-lb bombs as a follow-up.
If just one of those 365 planes had been diverted a few kilometres to drop just one of approximately three thousand bombs onto the railway tracks leading to the gas chambers…
But John J. McCloy remained steadfast in ensuring Allied forces would not in any way infringe upon the freedom of Nazis to continue their industrial slaughter of 1.5 million Jews, more or less.
One of McCloy’s aides was not naive. Born in Latvia in 1904, Benjamin Akzin was a lawyer who still had Jewish relatives and friends in Europe. In 1922, as a university student in Vienna, Akzin had been one of the founders of Hechaver, a Zionist student movement in Eastern Europe. He argued that disrupting the transport links and bombing the gas chambers would force the Nazis to expend considerable resources. As as a secondary argument, he advised that saving many thousands of Jews from the gas chambers was a “matter of principle. ” Both of his rationales for intervention were dismissed.
Here is Benjamin Akzin’s attempt to encourage his boss to act.
In 1939, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada had established a rescue committee, the Va’ad Hahatzala, to promote and engage in rescue activities on behalf of European Jewry, especially of rabbis and yeshiva students. Rabbi Araham Kalmanowitz, as a leading rabbinical figure in the Va’ad Hahatzala, also urged the Executive Director of the United States’ War Refugee Board to bomb the railway tracks.
Kalmanowitz, Azkin and everyone else who approached the WRB was rebuffed by the unelected fixer John J. McCloy who implemented an Allied policy whereby it was deemed expediate to not take any actions to directly forestall the murder of millions of Jews based upon the primacy of military aggression: killing just one German soldier was more important than saving lives of millions of Jews.
McCloy’s precedent-setting letter dated July 4th is noteworthy in relation to the following events and communications during the same period (July 1, July 4 and July 15).
- On July 1, the WRB received a cable from its Swedish representative, Iver C. Olsen outlining the industrial nature of the Holocaust at Auschwitz. “It is so terrible,” he wrote, “that it is hard to believe and that there are no words to qualify its description.” Nonetheless, Olsen made an effort to describe the methodology that he believed was used to murder at least 600,000 Jews. Due to Vrba and Wetzler’s reportage, Olsen was able to succinctly state: “According to the evidence, these people are now being taken to a place across the Hungarian frontier in Poland where there is an establishment at which gas is used for killing people. It is said … that these people of all ages, children, women and men are transported to this isolated spot in box cars packed in like sardines and that upon arrival many are already dead. Those who have survived that trip are stripped naked, given a small square object that resembles a piece of soap and are told that at the bath house they must bathe themselves. The ‘bath house’ does in fact look like a big bathing establishment…. Into a large room with a total capacity of two thousand packed together closely the victims are pushed. No regard is given to sex or age and all are completely naked. When the atmosphere of the hall has been heated by this mass of bodies a fine powder is let down over the whole area by open a contraption in the ceiling. When the heated atmosphere comes in contact with this powder a poisonous gas is formed which kills all occupants of the room. Trucks then take out the bodies, and burning follows.”
- Also on July 1, the War Refugee Board received a letter from the head of Congress’s Rescue Department, Leon Kubowitzki, suggesting that instead of considering any aerial bombardments that could kill Jews, the Russians should be asked to send in paratroopers. Pehle found this suggestion so hare-brained that he did not even bother to show it to McCloy but a WRB underling disagreed. Benjamin Akzin was so disturbed by the June 24th cables sent to the WRB by Olsen and McClelland that he essentially felt any action would be better than no action at all. Akzin wrote a memo to his boss stating, as a “matter of principle,” that he felt the Allied should bomb the gas chambers and the “mining and manufacturing centres” at Auschwitz because “refraining from bombing the extermination centres would be sheer misplaced sentimentality, far more cruel a decision than to destroy these centres.” Akzin’s perspective was prudent and even commonsensical on humanitarian grounds. Had McCloy been shown Akzin’s memo, would he have been swayed to consider any action at all in response at all to the fact that about 12,000 Jews were being gassed each day in Auschwitz? We do know, however, that McCloy did read Olsen’s message describing the gassing procedure. The conjecture that most WRB officials—other than Akzin—were anti-Semitic has to be considered.
- On July 2, the New York Times correspondent in Geneva, Daniel Brigham, published an article entitled “Inquiry Confirms Nazi Death Camps” and it was subtitled “1,715 Jews Said to Have Been Put to Death by the Germans up to April 15”. On July 4, there was a follow-up editorial in the New York Times entitled “No Peace with the Butchers” that told Americans that appeals were in progress to Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin to intervene–but only by threatening Hungarian cities and towns with retaliation if they enabled deportation of Jews. Brigham would publish a follow-up piece on July 6 entitled “Two Death Camps Places of Horror: German Establishments for Mass Killings of Jews Described by Swiss.”
- On July 4, a summary of the Vrba-Wetzler Report reached the Foreign Office in London. It prompted Anthony Eden to rise in Parliament the next day and protest the “barbarous deportations.” The following day Eden told Churchill he believed the death camps ought to be bombed. “You and I are in entire agreement,” Churchill replied on July 7. “Get anything out of the Air Force you can, and invoke me if necessary.” The two most powerful men in England understood the Vrba-Wetzler Report fully and urged action be taken after only three days. Whereas FDR prevaricated and relegated the Holocaust to cautious and inept underlings, Churchill told his Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, “There is no doubt that this is probably the greatest and most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world, and it has been done by scientific machinery by nominally civilized men in the name of a great State and one of the leading races of Europe.” Nonetheless, Churchill’s willingness to take military action to eradicate or limit the death factories of Auschwitz floundered because the distance to Silesia for British night bombers was too great, the Foreign Ministry did not provide necessary information on the target site and McCloy had already kiboshed any such venture on behalf of the Allies.
- On July 15, having implemented a non-military scheme with neutral Sweden whereby a prominent Swedish businessman named Raoul Wallenberg would be sent as an attaché to the Swiss embassy in Budapest in order to issue Swiss passport visas to Jews (a scheme that was implemented by Per Anger and replicated by other embassies), Pehle issued a memorandum to WRB members that specifically addressed the logic of bombing the railway tracks: “As the situation in Hungary has become increasingly desperate, the Board has received several proposals that certain military operations might take place with the possible purpose of forestalling or hindering German extermination operations. One of these was a suggestion that the railways leading from the points of deportation to the camps be bombed. This particular suggestion was discussed with Assistant Secretary of War McCloy. After careful consideration of the matter, the War Department ruled that the suggested air operation was impracticable.” With this memorandum, Pehle essentially asserted that when it came to the Allies making any further decisions about Auschwitz, the buck stopped at the desk of their associate John J. McCloy.
In August, the Jewish Agency for Palestine wrote to the British Foreign Office, providing descriptions of both the Treblinka and Auschwitz camps, urging the British to attack both sites.
When Leon Kubowitzki relayed another bombing appeal from a member of the Czech government-in-exile, Ernest Frischer, John McCloy invented a new rationale to ensure the Nazis could continue to annihilate the Jews. First, here is Kubowitzki’s appeal.
This time, in order to reject proposals to bomb railway tracks, bridges or the Auschwitz gas chambers, McCloy declined to do anything because “there has been considerable opinion to the effect that such an effort, even if practical, might provoke even more vindictive actions by the Germans.”
Another War Department argument not to bomb railways tracks was that most railway tracks could be quickly replaced. After all, the Nazis had no shortage of slave labour… Therefore, an excuse was made, when necessary, that few Jewish lives would be saved. But Budapest-born Steve Floris has described his successful escape from the Nazis on a cattle car transport after the Allies had bombed railway tracks near Krems, Austria. In the ensuing chaos, he infiltrated a throng of refugees and made his way back to Budapest and reunited with is wife-to-be, as recorded in his memoir, Escape from Pannonia: A Tale of Two Survivors (Granville Island Publishing 2002).
Meanwhile, the far-fetched Blood for Trucks scheme—proposed by Joel Brand and Rudolf Kasztner and supported by the War Refugee Board—served as a splendid, chess game delay tactic for Nazi negotiator Adolf Eichmann, enabling him to keep the trains running, as McCloy doggedly dismissed ongoing requests from Jewish organizations for Auschwitz-related bombing interventions on the grounds they would entail “diversion of considerable air support.”
In the autumn, McCloy met with the president of the World Jewish Council, Nahum Goldmann, and told him it was the British who controlled the mandate for aerial assaults in Silesia. When WRB head John Pehle once again wanted the United States to consider bombing Auschwitz, Colonel Gerhardt justified inaction with a different excuse in a memo sent to his boss McCloy on October 5, 1944. It stated: “I recommend no action to be taken on it since the matter has been fully presented several times previously. It has been our position which has been expressed to the WRB, the bombing of Polish extermination camps should be within operational responsibility of Russian Forces.”
Simultaneously, as divulged by David S. Wyman, more than 2,000 American bombers were dropping 5,000 tons of explosives on the adjoining I.G. Farben production facilities at Auschwitz III, a mere three kilometres from the Auschwitz II (Birkenau) crematoria.
WRB head John Pehle claimed he never received the full text of Vrba-Wetzler Report until November of 1944, approximately seven months after the report was written. Allegedly, attempts were made by the Americans to have either Britain or Russia bomb the camps or railway tracks, to no avail. An internal WRB housekeeping memo, dated November 2, 1944, entitled “Use of Reports on Auschwitz-Birkenau, forwarded by McClelland” ellucidated five propositions but only one–the long-delayed public release of the information provided by escapees Vrba, Wetzler, Mordowicz and Rosin–was expedited. By the time the War Department issued a letter on November 18, 1944 that formally opposed–again–any plans to bomb Auschwitz or the railway tracks leading to Auschwitz, the job had already begun.
Unbeknownst to the Allies, doomed Sonderkommando prisoners in Auschwitz, having learned that they, too, would soon executed en masse, had dismantled and destroyed much of Crematorium IV during a revolt on October 7, 1844. Approximately, 250 prisoners died during the fighting with guards, and another 200 were shot after the uprising was suppressed.
Then the main architect of the Holocaust himself, Heinrich Himmler, would order the destruction of crematoria in order to hide the evidence of Nazi butchery. The original Auschwitz gas chamber and crematorium had already been withdrawn from “service” in 1943, along with two crude bunkers for execution; then, as Soviet forces were drawing near to Auschwitz, it was the SS chief himself who mandated the destruction and dismantling of crematoria and gas chambers on November 25, 1944.
In retrospect, it appears John J. McCoy was the tail wagging the dog.
John McCloy was born in Philadelphia in 1895 as John Snader McCloy. He lost his older brother William to diptheria in 1899 and his father died thirteen months later. His father had become successful in the insurance business despite being a high school dropout. His mother’s two unmarried sisters joined the household after his father’s death; thereafter he was raised by three women.
His mother became a hairdresser but she was nonetheless determined John should attend a private school. Her maiden name was Snader. Feeling that his middle name did not make him seem distinguished enough, John would later take his father’s middle name and legally became John Jay McCloy.
McCloy first attended the Peddie Institute in Hightstown, New Jersey, a mid-level private boarding school, where he excelled at tennis. McCloy was not a distinguished student at Amherst College or Harvard Law School but at Harvard he did teach the Rockefeller brothers how to sail. One might suggest it was clear sailing for him ever since. McCloy dropped out of Harvard in 1917 and saw limited action in France as a commander of an artillery battery with the American Expeditionary Force during the final weeks of World War One.
His limited experiences were nonetheless important in establishing some credibility for service with General Stimson during WW II. Perhaps more importantly, McCloy came to the conclusion that the punitive post-war measures taken to prohibit any resurgence of the Hun ultimately engendered World War II—because the prohibitions against unfettered business enterprises in Germany mostly served to kindle resentment, giving rise to Hitler: hence capitalism must always be encouraged rather than stifled.
Having received a Harvard law degree in 1921, McCloy went to New York and worked for two prestigious law firms with wealthy clients. The first firm was Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, where he became adept at railroad and antitrust cases. Henry W. Taft was the brother of U.S. President William Howard Taft. George Wickersham previously served as the Attorney General of the United States.
Three years later, in 1924, he joined Cravath, Henderson & de Gersdorff, where he had banking and international clients. He befriended W. Averell Harriman and Robert A. Lovett and was sent to the firm’s Milan office in 1927, working on behalf of the fascist government and traveling throughout Italy, France and Germany where he worked closely with Paul M. Warburg, of the venerable Jewish family firm M.M. Warburg in Hamburg. An architect of the US Federal Reserve System in 1913, Paul Warburg died in 1932, a year before Hitler became Chancellor.
During this period, McCloy first worked on several large cases involving German corporations, including Europe’s gigantic chemical enterprise, I.G. Farben, when its directors still included numerous Jews. By the time he was made a partner in Cravath, Henderson & de Gersdorff, he was making $15,000 per year when the average American salary was $3,000.
“Brilliant intellectual powers are not essential,” said Paul Cravath, who chiefly created the law firm and was McCloy’s foremost legal mentor. He advised, “Too much imagination, too much wit, too great cleverness, too facile fluency, if not leavened by a sound sense of proportion are quite as likely to impede success as to promote it.” McCloy’s biographer Kai Bird later concluded that “McCloy fit the Cravath mold perfectly.”
Having not invested substantially in the stock market, McCloy was unaffected by the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
A staunch and lifelong Republican, McCloy married Smith College graduate Ellen Zinsser in 1930. His new brother-in-law, Lew Douglas, would become President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s budget chief in March 1933. Douglas, an outspoken anti-Semite, believed the New Deal was a Jewish conspiracy to up-end capitalism. He warned openly about the “Hebraic influence” and resigned in August of 1934 in disgust.
The turning point for McCloy came in 1934 when he was able to prosecute Germany for damages arising from the so-called Black Tom explosion of 1916 during which a huge storehouse of American munitions, bound for Russia, had been blown up in the New York harbour causing extensive damage to the Statue of Liberty. Thirteen warehouses and one hundred rail cars were blown to proverbial smithereens during this mini-Pearl Harbour incident.
Representing a variety of clients, McCloy successfully proved that these harbour explosions were the result of German sabotage through a German American spy network. During his extended prosecution efforts, McCloy became well-versed in the Who’s-Who of Germany leading industrialists.
During the 1930s, behind the scenes, McCloy also joined an exclusive lunch club of New York lawyers known as Nisi Prius and became affiliated with the Dulles brothers, Allen and John Foster, who were themselves much involved with German economic enterprises. This led to an invitation to join The Council of Foreign Relations.
In 1936, McCloy travelled to Berlin and met with Rudolf Hess. He began to specialize in German cases. His law firm represented the German chemical giant I.G. Farben and its associates. It was I.G. Farben that would develop artificial rubber and artificial oil that were absolutely essential for the Nazi’s campaign to conquer Europe. It was during this era that McCloy attended the Berlin Olympics at the invitation of Adolf Hitler in 1938 and sat in the Fuhrer’s private box with both Hitler and Goering.
At the time it was not overtly apparent that McCloy was determinedly anti-Semitic; he was a product of his times. As his biographer Kai Bird states, “In Wall Street during the 1930s, few men challenged the notion that, as a rule, Jews were socially pushy and arrogant, particularly when placed in positions of power and influence.”
It was not McCloy’s European activities as a lawyer, his World War I service, his political preferences (he was a Republican) or his attitudes towards Jews (he was close friends with James Warburg who had worked as an advisor to FDR until 1934) that brought him into military service in Washington, D.C. Rather it was McCloy’s experience with German sabotage that prompted Secretary of War Henry Stimson to appoint him as his lieutenant. It was assumed that the Germans might once more try to sabotage neutral America’s infrastructure as they had done successfully when the United States was still neutral in 1916 during the Black Tom catastrophe.
Although McCloy ostensibly handled mostly civilian tasks when he became Assistant Secretary of War in April of 1941, his influence on committees dealing with issues of the draft, war materials, intelligence and sabotage became extensive. For instance, McCloy was involved in the planning that led to the establishment of the Pentagon, he helped create the Office of Strategic Services (predecessor to the CIA) and he contributed the proposal to create the United Nations.
In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, McCloy was chiefly responsible for the federal government decision to intern Japanese Americans after FDR had referred the matter to Stimson who then passed along the responsibility of formulating policies for “the West Coast security problem” to McCloy. This was the precedent for Stimson similarly handing over the “Auschwitz problem” to McCloy.
After California Congressman Leland M. Ford urged for “all Japanese, whether citizens or not, be placed in inland concentration camps,” McCloy met with J. Edgar Hoover and Attorney General Francis Biddle of the Justice Department on February 1 to discuss the proposed incarceration. The Attorney General was strongly opposed to such racism and defended the importance of personal freedom but McCloy got support from the Attorney General of the State of California, Earl Warren. “The Constitution is just a scrap of paper to me,” McCloy declared. Racism won. FDR authorized construction of ten permanent camps to house more than 110,000 Japanese Americans who forfeited their homes, jobs and constitutional rights.
Knowing and admitting the truth about the Holocaust in private, President Roosevelt nonetheless vacillated and prevaricated. It took him until January of 1944 to finally relent to the pleadings of his own Jewish Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau Jr. and create the aforementioned, three-man War Refugee Board (WRB) “to take all measures within its power to rescue the victims of enemy oppression who are in imminent danger of death.”
Roosevelt did not proceed entirely because it was the right thing to do. Morgenthau had first met Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt in 1913 when he was operating a farm in upstate New York, near the Roosevelt estate, where, like FDR, he specialized in growing Christmas trees, even though he was Jewish. In short, the War Refugee Board was created partly because Morgenthau was a trusted, family friend.
Morgenthau was motivated to address the Holocaust when he was distressed to learn that the State Department had, for six months, blocked a plan to rescue 70,000 Romanian Jews in exchange for $170,000 in Romanian currency. Appalled, Morgenthau also learned the State Department had failed to reveal—to him, a Jew—the contents of the aforementioned cable from the U.S. Legation in Switzerland that confirmed Hitler’s plan for The Final Solution.
The anti-Semitic Assistant Secretary Breckinbridge Long denied any cover-up when Morgenthau confronted him with this deception. Indignant, Morgenthau had then set himself the task of drafting a devastating expose of irresponsibility entitled “Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of the Jews.”
While Morgenthau’s paper trail bombshell fell short of alleging that the United States had blood on its hands, he did allege, in print, that the State Department was “guilty not only of gross procrastination and the willful failure to act, but even of willful attempts to prevent action being taken to rescue Jews from Hitler.”
It was largely on the strength of Morgenthau’s potential expose of State Department ineptitude and deceit that FDR felt obliged to create the WRB in January of 1944 under its acting executive director John Pehle, a lawyer on Morgenthau’s staff.
Immediately, Pehle set to work arranging for the evacuation of 5,000 abandoned children from France for $600,000. More significantly, he responded favourably to an appeal from the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada to finance an underground operation (including a direct transfer of hard currency into enemy-occupied territory) to enable Jewish refugees in Poland to escape to Hungary and Pehle negotiated with the Romanian government to transfer 6,400 Jews from concentration camps to Bucharest.
The latter two initiatives set a precedent. The new War Refugee Board could assist Jews. Meanwhile, in response to a controversial a 1944 memorandum entitled Suggested Post-Surrender Program for Germany, McCloy would reject the Morgenthau Plan to subdivide Germany into smaller parts and strip Germany of its industrial base.
McCloy was not ignorant of the plight of Jews in Europe at the time. On friendly terms with his neighbour, Justice Frankfurter, McCloy would have gleaned the gist of Jan Karski’s report from Frankfurter and he was also on friendly terms with the Jewish journalist Walter Lippmann who had also been made privy to the contents of Karski’s report—but Lippmann had chosen not to write about it.
Lippmann’s aversion to sustaining any risk in this matter provides a litmus test, in retrospect, for the prevalence of a genteel, upper-class anti-Semitism in the United States wherein Ivy League schools carefully managed quotas for the number of Jews to be admitted to their hallowed halls of higher learning. McCloy was well aware that Wall Street law firms were similarly apprehensive to elevate Jewish attorneys and his father-in-law reportedly refused to do business with Jews “as a matter of principle.”
In his biography of McCloy, Kai Bird takes care to include this seemingly innocuous, third party tidbit: “Once, during the war years, a young Jewish lawyer working on Wall Street was told by a friend that McCloy had asked him to invite a few eligible bachelors to a coming-out party for a Washington debutante but had specified that no Jews should be brought alone.”
McCloy’s boss Stimson, according to Kai Bird, “tended to consider any publicity about Jewish affairs or Zionism an unfortunate breach of etiquette.” As well, active military personnel were consistent in espousing their belief that wartime resources and personnel must only be expended on activities to vanquish the enemy. The Departments of State and War had simultaneously confirmed with Pehle that he ought to send a cable to the British government stating, “it is not contemplated that combat will be employed in rescue operations unless the rescues are the direct result of military operations.”
Ignoring Jewish appeals was therefore defensible with the iron-clad excuse that it bordered on being unpatriotic.
Bird chooses to generously characterize McCloy’s approach to Jewish appeals to the War Refugee Board as one of “benign obstruction” but there can be nothing benign about the failure to limit the murder of six million people. Such a depiction of McCloy as being merely a cog in the wheel of American imperialism would go a long way in terms of reducing McCloy’s culpability with regards to the Holocaust were it not for the fact that McCloy, in March of 1944, came out of his shell of patriotic civility to actively testify against the resolution put forth by American Zionist organizations for the U.S. to ensure “that doors of Palestine shall be opened for free entry of Jews into the country… so that the Jewish people may ultimately reconstitute Palestine as a free and democratic Jewish commonwealth.”
McCloy’s rationales for taking two months to prepare a report that he delivered on the subject at Capitol Hill were ostensibly geo-political. It would not be prudent to risk the valuable “cooperation and goodwill of the Arab.” With Stimson’s blessing, he testified before an executive session of the House Foreign Relations Committee that the threat of losing Middle Eastern oil should be considered more vital than a Zionist resolution. Surely, it would be foolhardy to exacerbate tensions when the U.S. was expecting to soon negotiate with Saudi Arabia on the construction of a new pipeline from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean.
McCloy delivered the death blow to the Zionist resolution when he told the Foreign Relations Committee that the only source of aviation fuel for American planes outside the Western Hemisphere was the Abadan refinery at the head of the Gulf. When Rabbi Stephen Wise refused to dilute the gist of his Zionist resolution, McCloy won a complete victory and the resolution to potentially alleviate or obviate Jewish desperation and suffering Europe failed to garner support from the world’s most powerful country.
Kai Bird quotes the historian David S. Wyman: “The unavoidable conclusion is that during the Holocaust the leadership of American Zionism concentrated its major force on the drive for a future Jewish state in Palestine. It consigned rescue to a distinctly second position.” This was a controversial view [anathema in Israel] that would soon be echoed by Rudolf Vrba when the war was over and he came to assess the activities and agenda of European Zionism.
John McCloy was not averse to other people saving the lives of Jews. For instance, he approved of the Romanian government’s plan to evacuate 48,000 Jews from Transnistria to the Romanian interior, the Irish government’s decision to adopt 500 Jewish refugee children and the Turkish agreement to enable 200 Jews over ten days to exit from Istanbul to Palestine.
But McCloy and his cohorts were incapable of understanding the extent to which eradication of the Jewish people in Europe was a vital war-time exercise for the Nazis—and, hence, should have been counter-acted in accordance with their own ‘military-only’ mandate. McCloy and his associates completely overlooked the fact that the theft of all Jewish homes, businesses, possessions, clothes, art and jewelry was an essential economic benefit to the Nazi offensives. As well, the addition of an unlimited slave labour force was vital for the maximation of German manufacturing.
Not saving Jews on the grounds that the saving of Jews would not hasten the military defeat of Hitler was a blinkered perspective. The more we continue to learn about the Holocaust, the more we can appreciate the persistent American decision not to bomb the railway tracks leading to Auschwitz was not only shameful; it was tactically imprudent.
The extent to which the underlings within the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not wish to be seen as supportive of Jews can be measured when one considers the response of McCloy and his superior Stimson when the head of the WRB, John Pehle, suggested FDR should announce the U.S. would temporarily accept “all oppressed people’s escaping from Hitler.” This would amount to more than grandiose rhetoric in keeping the Statue of Liberty mythology that all Americans held as sacrosanct—but this announcement would mean that even desperate Jews oppressed by Hitler might be considered welcome.
McCloy recommended caution. The Jewish-refugee “problem” must not be elevated into a radically open immigration policy if it clearly was not a matter of national security. Stimson and McCloy joined forces to kibosh Pehle’s overly altruistic draft. As a result, Roosevelt eventually issued a declaration for the U.S. to magnanimously provide a temporary haven for 1,000 refugees only, from southern Italy, many of whom were Jews.
The extraordinary degree to which McCloy’s influence on U.S. and global affairs facilitated the goals of Hitler’s Final Solution can be gleaned more deeply from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Kai Bird’s essential 800-plus-page biography, The Chairman. Bird exhaustively reveals that while this lifelong Rockefeller associate appeared to be operating as a public servant during a plethora of appointments within the U.S. government, McCloy’s naïve devotion to unfettered capitalism were the blinders that prohibited him from acting with courage to forestall the Holocaust.
In August of 1944, Ernest Frischer, a member of the Czech government-in-exile, had persuaded an official with the World Jewish Congress in New York, Leon Kubowitzki, to ask McCloy to consider an aerial attack to destroy the gas chambers and crematoria, etc., after they had been described accurately, for the first time, by Vrba and Wetzler.
McCloy rejected any such “diversion of considerable air support” on humanitarian grounds: he rebutted the proposal to eliminate machinery that killed more than a million Jews because such offensive, “might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans.”
When falsehoods would not suffice, McCloy remained evasive. Pressured during a meeting with the president of the World Jewish Congress, Nahum Goldman, the non-military appointee John McCloy rebuffed the notion of bombing raids to save Jews by suggesting he lacked jurisdictional authority.
Goldman later wrote, “McCloy indicated to me that, although the Americans were reluctant about my proposal, they might agree to it, though any decision as to the targets of bombardments in Europe was in the hands of the British.”
Winston Churchill, in fact, had ordered the bombing of Auschwitz by British pilots only to be informed by Archibald Sinclair, the British Secretary of State for Air, that “the distance of Silesia from our bases entirely rules out our doing anything of the kind.”
The British, however, did undertake a successful bombing of a German prison camp in France. In November of 1944, John Pehle sent McCloy a New York Times article about how, when the British had successfully bombed this Nazi prison camp, 100 French resistance fighters were set free in the process. Pehle thought this might serve as a precedent for military action to assist the prisoners in Auschwitz.
By this time Pehle and McCloy had digested a “report of two eye-witnesses on the notorious German concentration and extermination camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau.” Nonetheless, when McCloy consulted with General John Hull of the War Department, they once again surmised that “the results obtained would not justify the high losses likely to result from such a mission.”
Here is John J. McCloy’s letter.
Here is a facsimile copy of the letter that Pehle wrote to John McCloy on November 8, 1944.
McCloy did not reply to him until 10 days later, on November 18, 1944. Here is a facsimile of his abrupt answer.
Kai Bird, in his essential biography of McCloy, suggests that McCloy was conscious of the fact that some Americans were prone to the anti-Semitic belief that World War II was somehow started by “Jewish capitalists” and he feared alienating those American troops who might suspect they were fighting on behalf of the Jews.
“The initiative and courage he routinely displayed when dealing with equally controversial issues…” Bird writes, “was missing when it came to dealing with the War Refugee Board.”
John McCloy’s refusals to consider any expenditures or risks for the U.S. military in order to curtail genocide remained consistent after he had read the report of two credible witnesses who estimated the number of Jews killed in Auschwitz from June of 1942 to April of 1944 was approximately 1.75 million. The death toll estimates supplied by Vrba and Wetzler turned out to be consistent with those supplied by an unrepentant Adolf Eichmann after the war.
For a more complex and extensive tracking of the issue as to why the Allies refused to bomb the railway tracks to Auschwitz–in particular, the single track rail line between the cities of Kosice (Kassa) and Presov–see Chapter 15 of David S. Wyman’s essential study, The Abandonment of the Jews (New Press, 1984, 2007), in which he recounts how Jewish leaders in Budapest first requested the railway tracks to be bombed in mid-May of 1944, having received a copy of the Vrba-Wetzler Report in early May. Among the countless details supplied by Wyman is the gist of a long and anguished letter written by the leaders of the Slovak Jewish underground, Gisi Fleischmann and Rabbi Michael Weissmandel, during the third week in May, in which they ask: “And you, our brothers in all free countries; and you, governments in all free lands, where are you? What are you doing to hinder the carnage that is now going on?”
The likes of John J. McCloy would have been impervious to such emotional rhetoric. If need be, he could always resort to referencing a policy memo that arose well before the Vrba-Wetzler Report had been written and distributed. In late January of 1944, when the War Refugee Board had initially queried the British government as to their possible involvement in future rescue efforts, the British government–according to Wyman’s analysis–had been reluctant to cooperate partly due to the presence of the U.S. Secretary of War, Stimson, as a WRB member, leading the Brits to assume that the Americans must therefore be planning on using troops to rescue refugees. Seeking to reassure its British allies that this would not be the case, the American war department therefore set down the following policy well before the true nature and scope of Auschwitz was made know by Vrba and Wetzler:
“It is not contemplated that units of the armed forces will be employed for the purpose of rescuing victims of enemy oppression unless such rescues are the direct result of military operations conducted with the objective of defeating the armed forces of the enemy.”
The American government did not divulge the contents of the Vrba-Wetzler Report to the American public until November 25, 1944, during a press conference that was held seven months after Vrba and Wetzler had rendered their escapees’ report in in Zilina to Dr. Oskar Neumann and engineer Oskar Krasnansky of the Jewish Council, whereupon copies were soon circulated in Switzerland, reaching the hands of America’s top spy there, Allen Dulles, head of the Swiss bureau of the Office of Strategic Services (forerunner to the CIA), who handed the hot potato in June to the War Refugee Board’s representative in Geneva, Roswell McClelland.
It therefore had taken the the director of the U.S. War Refugee Board, John Pehle, more than six months to finally issue a 25,000-word press release entitled The Extermination Camps of Auschwitz (Oswiecim) and Birkenau in Upper Silesia along with three reports that became known collectively as the Auschwitz Protocols. In addition to the 33-page Vrba-Wetzler Report, there was the groundbreaking, 19-page Polish Major’s Report by escapee Jerzy Tabeau and the corroborating, six-page report by Arnost Rosin and Czeslaw Mordowicz. The New York Herald Tribune called the Protocols “the most shocking document ever issued by a United States government agency.”
With this publication, Pehle once again approached the Assistant Secretary of War, the civilian John J. McCloy, and asked if he would please consider bombing Auschwitz or the railway tracks to it–a proposal that McCloy had rejected back in June of 1944. Again, McCloy lied and said this was not logistically feasible, even though bombs had already fallen there by accident. As well, the US Air Force had dropped 1,300 five-hundred-pound bombs on nearby Monowitz, where Vrba has a brief stint as a slave labourer upon his arrival in Auschwitz, and US reconnaissance had taken aerial photos of Auschwitz in the spring and summer, on April 4 when Vrba and Wetzler had made one of their several aborted escape attempts (prior to April 7), and again in August. After the war it would become apparent that the American forces had photographic proof that the crematoria and barracks existed precisely as Vrba and Wetzler had described them.
Pehle sent this pleasing message to McCloy–who was his junior in the hierarchy of the War Refugee War but who pulled the strings as the chief assistant to the War minister:
“No report on Nazi atrocities received by the board has quite caught the gruesome brutality of what is taking place in these camps as have these sober, factual accounts.”
Still McCloy refused to act.
President Roosevelt backed him up by saying that he didn’t want to see the United States of America “accused of participating in this horrible business.”
Pehle then approached the American armed-forces publication Yank and offered a story on the Auschwitz Protocols by Sergeant Richard Paul but the magazine declined the article because it was “too Semitic.” The editorial board of Yank justified this decision to Pehle on the grounds that they did not wish to upset their core readership due to “latent antisemitism in the Army.” And so that was the end of the matter.
Images for Yank magazine 1944
FDR and the Bucharest slaughter
It must be noted that the prevailing narrative that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was somehow kept in the dark about the true nature of the Holocaust until the full version of the Vrba-Wetzler Report finally reached his Assistant War Minister John J. McCloy—at the end of 1944—is pure poppycock.
The well-intentioned but superficial Ken Burns documentary on America and the Holocaust that aired in 2022 fails to note that the 28-year-old, Polish resistance fighter and whistleblower Jan Karski had a long, private meeting with the President of the United States on July 28, 1943 during which Karski provided eyewitness reportage of wholescale murder procedures in Europe.
As Karski recalled in his 1978 interview with Claude Lanzmann, “I saw the extermination camp [Belzec]. Mr. President, the situation is terrible. The point is, without outside help, the Jews will perish in Poland.” Some thirty-five years later Karski said he could still recall every second of his conversation with FDR during which he pleaded on behalf of Europe’s Jewish leaders for the United States to intervene.
FDR did not respond to the plight of the Jews, nor did he ask for any further information about either the concentration camp or the Warsaw Ghetto, which Karski had described. Instead, FDR only promised Karski that the U.S. would not abandon the state of Poland. Polish duress would be rewarded and compensated with accession of East Prussia. FDR raised questions about horses, not Jews. “No Jewish problem was mentioned,” Karski recalled, “until the end of the conversation which lasted one hour [and] twenty [minutes].”
Click here to listen to an interview with Jan Karski in which he explains what happened in his meeting with President Roosevelt.
Even fewer historians have noted that FDR similarly failed to respond in any emotional or political way to an extensive report from his U.S. envoy to Romania, Franklin Mott Gunther, who directly alerted FDR to the unprecedented torture and murder of at least 127 Jews in Bucharest in January of 1941.
Before Romania fell fully under the dictatorship of the pro-Nazi fascist dictator (Conducător) Ion Antonescu—a Hitler crony who planned to gradually subjugate Bucharest’s approximately 100,000 Jews—the country’s rival Iron Guard forces under the rival fascist leadership of Horia Sima had adopted a reign of terror to prove their invincibility and strength. Members of this virulently anti-Jewish paramilitary organization, founded in 1927, not only falsely accused Antonescu of having a Jewish ex-wife, they commenced a pogrom against the city’s Jews, first inciting mobs to destroy the Jewish boroughs of Dudești and Văcărești.
The U.S. envoy reported on a reign of terror that commenced on January 21 and remained for two more days during which Jews were thrown from high windows, houses were set on fire, Jewish-owned businesses were looted and women were raped in front of their husbands and children. While the death toll has since been conservatively recorded by Yad Vashem as only 127 Jews, Gunther informed FDR that the Turkish ambassador estimated the Jewish death toll at 284, an estimate that Gunther claimed was “most conservative in numbers,” whereas he also quoted a “reliable Jewish informant of mine” who told him that Jews in Bucharest had applied for 727 burial permits.
Gunther himself visited the local slaughterhouse where victims as young as a five-year-old girl named Amy had been hung on meathooks, while still alive. Bellies were gutted; entrails were hung around their necks. Victims were labelled kosher.
In his letter to President Roosevelt and the U.S. State Department, Gunther felt obliged to note that an engineer who worked in that slaughterhouse had told him that at least 60 Jewish corpses were hung on hooks, seemingly skinned alive due to the quantity of blood. “It makes one sick at heart to be accredited to a country where such things can happen,” Gunther wrote, “even though the real faults of inspiration and encouragement lie elsewhere.” But the matter was dropped. Having been appointed as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Romania in July 31, 1937, Gunther became a little-known figure in World War II history after he died in Bucharest on December 22, 1941 only ten days after Romania officially declared war on the United States.
It is important to remember that the United States remained neutral during the first two years of World War II and only joined the war in Europe after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Retroactively, the United States is only gradually starting to recognize its complicity of inaction as regards the Holocaust. Ken Burns’ documentary series on the Holocaust is praiseworthy in that it opens the door a crack to allow the general public at large a glimpse the extent to which any token efforts made to address the mass murder of Jews in Europe were an abysmal failure. It carefully falls far short of being an admonishment or an admission of guilt. One of the ways Burns purposely evades the truth is by providing a sympathetic view of President Roosevelt. FDR is mostly portrayed as someone who was privately sympathetic to the plight of Jewry in Europe but his hands were tied by political expediency, etc.
Similarly, a PBS series entitled Secrets of the Death: Bombing Auschwitz presents a sympathetic portrait of John Pehle, head of the ineffectual War Refugee Board. It premiered Tuesday, January 21, 2019 to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Instead of laying any blame, the program suggests Pehle’s hands were tied by antisemitism in America and hence his efforts to “do the right thing” were thwarted–even though he, like Roosevelt, was the top man. We are told that John Pehle leaked the full version of the Auschwitz Protocols to newspapers, with a cover letter, when he realized the U.S War Department was refusing to consider any military actions to curtail or limit the genocide.
Therefore, this failed administrator can therefore be elevated to the status of American hero because he enabled the public to read: “So revolting and diabolical are the German atrocities that the minds of civilized people find it difficult to believe they’ve actually taken place…” We are advised, “Pehle understood his responsibilities and that was his greatness.” The PBS-screened mini-documentary approvingly has someone say, “I regarded John Pehle as one of the great American heroes. And he said we did too little and we did too late.” The program fails to go into any depth as to exactly how and why the United States did too little, too late. Instead, superficial coverage celebrates Pehle for generating “front-page news national-wide.” We are told Pehle is a hero because The Washington Post published an editorial entitled ‘Genocide’ and this was “the first time that word appears in a national newspaper.” The story was actually buried and only a few major newspapers followed suit.
The United States government at large and the War Refugee Board in particular did almost nothing to try and save six million Jews. American documentarians who know the facts nonetheless choose to lead Americans to say hooray for FDR, hooray for John Pehle.
The American historian Rafael Medoff has sagely noted that in 1943, meeting with a U.S. senator, Rabbi Meyer Berlin (namesake of the future Bar-Ilan University) remarked: “If horses were being slaughtered as are the Jews of Poland, there would by now be a loud demand for organized action against such cruelty to animals. Somehow, when it concerns Jews, everybody remains silent, including the intellectuals and humanitarians of free and enlightened America.”
Medoff concludes: “Two years later, in a sad fulfillment of Rabbi Berlin’s dire prediction, U.S. Gen. George Patton diverted U.S. troops to rescue 150 prized Lipizzaner dancing horses, which were caught between Allied and Axis forces along the German-Czech border.”
Of course, as anyone who has seen the George Clooney movie, The Monuments Men, ought to well know, American troops were also diverted to save works of art.
Horses and art.
Gunther’s Report to FDR
National Archives and Records Administration II, RG 59, Records of the U. S. Department of State relating to internal affairs of Romania 1910-1944, Wilmington, Del. 1981 (Microfilm): Doc. 871.4016/253. Original in English.
Please transmit also to the President.
“Although wholesale sacking and pillaging were, of course, the order of the day, reports are now reaching me of appalling brutality to the Jews of Bucharest during the recent uprising of German and Communist inspired elements of the Iron Guard. The Turkish Ambassador’s estimate of two hundred eighty four Jews wantonly killed in the slaughter house near the Jewish quarter is the most conservative in numbers. He blamed primarily the savage Macedo Romanians, otherwise known as Kutzovlachs. But according to a reliable Jewish informant of mine up to yesterday noon seven hundred twenty-seven burial permits for Jews in the common grave in the Jewish cemetery have been applied for. The slaughter house certainly did figure in as much as I have it indirectly from an engineer working there that when he reported for work the next day he found sixty Jewish corpses on the hooks used for carcasses and all skinned. The quantity of blood about would seem to indicate that they had been skinned alive.
“The above estimate takes no account of the much larger number of those wounded, maimed or beaten beyond recognition by the brutes and footpads of the Iron Guard. Ignorant primitive young savages whose dull vengeful minds responded to the German-controlled and inspired Romanian press of repetitive slogans and shibboleths of Jewish and Jewish English alleged inimical evil doings. It makes one sick at heart to be accredited to a country where such things can happen even though the real faults of inspiration and encouragement lie elsewhere.”
Some links to short videos regarding the bombing of Auschwitz:
Some Sources for Desk Murderer and McCloy After WW II
Avey, Denis, with Rob Broomby. The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz (Hodder & Stoughton, 2011)
Betz, Dr. Astrid, Dr. Alexander Schmidt, Hans-Christian Täubrich. Translated by Ulrike Seeberger and Jane Britten,. (Nürnberg: Museen der Stadt Nürnberg, 2012)
Bird, Kai. The Chairman: John J. McCloy – The Making of the American Establishment, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992)
Borkin, Joseph. The Crimes and Punishment of I.G. Farben (New York: Free Press, 1978)
Fleming, Gerald: Hitler and the Final Solution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982
Fulbrook, Mary. Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018
Gilbert, Sir Martin: Auschwitz and the Allies (Holt. Rinehart & Winston, 1981)
Karski, Jan: Story of a Secret State (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1944)
Lipstadt, Deborah E.: Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust, 1933-1945 (New York: The Free Press, 1986)
Schwartz, Thomas Alan. America’s Germany: John J. McCloy and the Federal Republic of Germany. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991
Steinberg, Paul. Chroniques d’ailleurs (Paris: Ramsay,1996); Speak You Also: A Survivor’s Reckoning, translated by Linda Coverdale (New York: Henry Holt, 2000)
Stimson, Henry: Diary
Tarpley, Webster Griffin; Wertz, Marianna; Chaitkin, Anton; George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography (Washington, DC: Executive Intelligence Review, 1991)
Tusa, Ann and John Tusa. The Nuremberg Trial (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2010)
Wachsmann, Nikolaus. KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015)
Wyman, David S.: The Abandonment of the Jews 1941-1945 (New Press 1984, 2007) P. 288-290 Wyman references the Wetzler-Vrba Report including that details as to the location of the railway that brought the Jews to the camps. Wyman references calls for bombing of the camp and the rail lines. From Wikipedia: Historian David Wyman published an essay in Commentary in 1978 entitled “Why Auschwitz Was Never Bombed”, arguing that the United States Army Air Forces could and should have attacked Auschwitz. In his book, Wyman argued that, since the I.G. Farben plant at Auschwitz III had been bombed three times between August and December 1944 by the US Fifteenth Air Force in Italy, it would have been feasible for the other camps or railway lines to be bombed too. Bernard Wasserstein’s Britain and the Jews of Europe (1979) and Martin Gilbert’s Auschwitz and the Allies (1981) raised similar questions about British inaction.
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